To the surprise of absolutely no one, Taylor Swift’s Lover easily dominated the Billboard 200 this week. HITS Daily Double reports the singer’s seventh studio album debuted with just over 885,000 equivalent album units, of which 700,000 came from traditional sales. It’s a predictably stellar debut for Swift, albeit one that falls slightly short of the million-plus threshold she passed with her previous four albums. That’s not cause for alarm, though, as I recently broke down why I think Lover will outsell its predecessor, Reputation, in the long run.
Yet Swift has her work cut out for her as she vies to keep Lover atop the charts over the next two weeks. Her most immediate competition comes from an unlikely source: prog-metal behemoths Tool, who just released their first album in 13 years, Fear Inoculum. How will Maynard James Keenan and Co. fare against pop’s reigning queen? Let’s break down their prospects to see who should emerge victorious on the Billboard 200 next week.
Taylor Swift’s Lover week-two sales predictions
The obvious benefit to Swift’s enormous first week is that Lover can plummet in its next frame and still rack up hefty sales. Measuring Lover against her previous albums to make a week-two sales prediction isn’t quite apples-to-apples, as Lover is the first Swift album that was available on streaming services as soon as it was released. Nevertheless, Reputation opened with 1.238 million units and dipped to 256,000 units in its second week, a 79% decline. Swift’s 2014 album 1989 blasted out of the gate with 1.287 million copies (before Billboard updated its methodology to account for streaming and digital track sales) and dropped 69% in its second week to move an additional 402,000 copies.
While Lover has proven less polarizing than Reputation thus far and earned mostly positive reviews, it’s not quite the zeitgeist-defining pop sensation that 1989 was. Now that it’s burned off its preorder boost, physical sales will tumble, but Lover will get a streaming cushion that Reputation still didn’t have in its second week of release. A 75% drop would put Lover at 221,250 units in week two, while a 65% drop would give it just shy of 310,000 units. I’ll split the difference and peg it at 265,600 units in week two. It’s a 70% drop and only 10,000 units above Reputation‘s second week—which, when considering how front-loaded that effort was, feels like a safe bet.
Final prediction: 265,600 units
Tool’s Fear Inoculum first-week sales predictions
It’s hard to imagine in today’s rock-averse musical climate, but once upon a time, Tool outsold some of the era’s biggest pop stars. The alt-metal giants topped the charts with their last two albums, 2006’s 10,000 Days and 2001’s Lateralus. 10,000 Days sold 564,000 copies in its first week, while Lateralus bowed with 555,200 copies.
There are two things worth noting here. The first is: Tool has always taken its sweet time between albums. The second is: Holy crap, a prog-metal band that routinely released 10-minute songs sold enough albums in one week to go gold, twice in a row. By going against the grain of popular music trends and refusing to make mainstream concessions, Tool cultivated a huge, rabid fanbase that gobbled up the band’s albums. They’ll surely do the same with Fear Inoculum, as they’ve been waiting 13 years for the band’s reunion.
Of course, the music industry is much different than it was in 2006. We should expect Fear Inoculum to sell less than its predecessors, but early signs point to a massive debut nonetheless. The album’s first single and title track debuted at No. 93 on the Hot 100, becoming the longest song ever to enter the chart at 10 minutes and 21 seconds. “Fear Inoculum” has earned nearly 10 million streams on Spotify, a great figure for a 25-year-old metal band, and several of the album’s other songs have eclipsed or are approaching 1 million streams in just a day-and-a-half. Those aren’t earth-shattering numbers, but they’re a strong supplement for a band that’s going to earn the bulk of its first-week sales from traditional album sales.
Speaking of which: If you wanted to buy a physical of Fear Inoculum, you had to be willing to part with a lot of cash. The band is selling a deluxe edition of the album that came with its own HD screen, two-watt speaker, 36-page booklet and an extra song called “Recusant Ad Infinitum.” Sound absurd? Remember that fans have been waiting 13 years to drop big bucks on a new Tool album. The collection is sold out most places, and it’s now going for well over $100 on Amazon and eBay.
Needless to say, this diehard fandom and pent-up anticipation will result in huge first-week sales for Fear Inoculum. Early predictions from HITS Daily Double peg the album at 240,000-260,000 total units. That projection will likely grow over the course of this week. A good analog here is one of heavy metal’s other biggest bands: Metallica. The band’s 2008 album Death Magnetic debuted at No. 1 with 490,000 copies sold. Eight years later, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct debuted with 291,000 equivalent album units, a 40% decline. The industry had changed drastically in those eight years, but it did little to dull Metallica fans’ enthusiasm.
Applying the same 40% drop-off would put Tool’s new album at 338,000 units in its first week. Tool, while huge, doesn’t have the same crossover appeal as Metallica, so that figure seems a little steep. But it’s not a stretch to say Fear Inoculum could move 300,000 units in its first week.
Final prediction: 300,000 units
The verdict: Tool beats Taylor Swift
Predicting album sales is hardly an exact science, and I’m more than willing to be proven wrong this week. The Swifties could show up en masse this week and give Lover the best week-two legs of Swift’s career. Alternately, the cult of Tool could be smaller and less passionate than I thought. But I’m going to boldly declare Tool the winners in next week’s chart battle. No matter who reigns supreme on the Billboard 200, it’s going to be a fun showdown between a modern-day pop superstar and the aging metal titans, the likes of which we may never see again.
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